It’s time for your weekly dose of inspiration and strategy from the Advanced Freelancing podcast. Before I kick off today’s episode, if you love this show and listen every week, please hop on over to iTunes and consider leaving the show a review. It helps other people interested in similar content be able to find this show and benefit from all of the great tips that you have already heard.

Today’s guest wants you to consider one question.

What if you could determine who in your audience is your best client in 180 seconds? Juliet Clark is a dynamic and sought after speaker and podcaster, who has spent the last 20 years helping authors, coaches, speakers, and small businesses all over the world build expert platforms.

She created a platform building tool that assesses audience obstacles, generates leads, and qualifies leads for businesses. And she says her simple technology can be used from the stage, on social media, and at workshops to create conversations that build long term relationships. She’s also the host of the Promote, Profit, and Publish podcast which helps entrepreneurs understand how to use great tools in the coaching and small business spaces. So we’re going to be talking all about lead generation, lead qualification, and how to make that process easier for you. This is a hot topic for a lot of freelancers.

Juliet’s story on how she became so knowledgeable about lead qualification and lead gen.

So I’m out of college. I started out in traditional publishing. And I went on to work in advertising on a couple billion dollar accounts. And from there I went to being a stay at home mom and lasted two weeks. It was really hard. That is a hard job.

And so I decided that I could balance my time between there and real estate. And the one thing that I carried through all of those was that you had to prequalify before you worked with people. And you also had to build a really solid Avatar and test and validate that avatar over and over and talk to those people.

So, in 2007, I was going through a divorce and I wrote my first book. It was a mystery novel. I killed my ex-husband in it. It was very cathartic. But the “what” came from that experience, besides not having to wear a felony orange jumpsuit, because it was metaphorically killing him in a book was that.

When I went to publish my first book, I found a self-publishing model that was horrendous. It did not serve authors at all. So I started my own company and then within that we had entrepreneurs bringing us a book. And they had written the book because their products and services weren’t selling. And someone told them that, “You know, the book is the answer. It’s why nobody knows you.” And I kind of said, “No, that’s not it. Yeah, this is going to be another failed product.”

So we developed, we worked with it, I found a platform that I really loved, and we started developing assessment marketing that was also lead generation. And as we got better and better over time with it, we put components in with it that were also qualification. So that when the people are working with the assessments, they’re actually pre qualifying themselves for your business.

I think that is such an important thing to consider that you have lead qualification processes built in when people are coming to you. Both with they are landing on your website, your landing pages, they’re finding you some other way, but also when you’re doing outreach with them.

Where do you think most people get things wrong with lead qualification?

So there’s a couple of things. My experience when I was in real estate was there was always a couple guys in the office who’d be like, “I have 60 leads.” And they never closed anything. And I had a really great team of people, we were selling about 60 houses a year. And we pre qualified everybody. It was such a huge difference in what we closed every year. So I think that pre pre qualification, we go out and we collect leads, but we don’t really find out how interested they are. So that’s one of the one of the things.

The other thing is, it’s easy for you to explain what you do and develop a product. But if you don’t validate it first and know who that audience is, you can’t replicate it for lead generation. So you have to be able to not only build that avatar, but also validate it.

How would you recommend that somebody validate it if they’re like brand new to starting their business? How do you figure out that this idea you have, this service or product has legs?

So this is the second time I’ve had to answer this today. One of the things, and I know with freelancers, they work with a lot of coaches, authors, speakers,  and small businesses. And unfortunately, that business model is what I call “Bootstrap to Bankruptcy”. Because there are all these things that you need to be successful and one of them is not validating that product.

So that’s actually what we use the assessments for. We tell people that are brand new, like we’re your first stop, you have an idea. Let’s get you out on a stage or networking or wherever it is. Let’s create this based on success principles and let them tell you if it’s a valid product and if they would pay me money for it. Because you get a lot of lip service about, “Oh, I really love that.” And then nobody will pay anything for it.

So I’d rather see you spend a couple thousand dollars and validate, then go out and hire that book coach and an online marketing coach and all of those things that are going to cost you anywhere from $10 to $100,000. I’d rather see you validate first.

I see this a lot too with other authors.

So I also do some freelance public relations work for nonfiction business book authors.  And it drives me crazy how many of them come to me and say, “I published my book three months ago, and it’s not selling at all.” And I’m like, “Why are we waiting until three months after the book is launched to think about these kinds of things? Did anyone even want to read that book to begin with? And how much opportunity we’ve lost by you spending a year two years of your life working on this thing?”

And then it’s the parts of it like did it ever have legs to begin with? Was it ever validated? And then also, how can we make sure that that follow through comes all the way through the process, right? We can’t just stop when you created the product. You have to build in your customer service.  And you have to build in your marketing. All those pieces have to be in place.

I think a lot of people do struggle with lead qualification, too.

Especially when you’re doing something like cold outreach.  That’s something a lot of freelancers do. They say I want to work with Procter and Gamble, or whatever. So they go do their research. They dig for hours to try to find the CMOS email address, write this custom pitch, and get in there.

Then they forget about that lead qualification process just because it was a big name or a cool company. They still might not be your right client. So can you talk a little bit about, especially on a phone call, because that’s usually the next step for a lot of freelancers, what information can you be asking for or listening for on a phone call to determine if a lead is not the right fit? So you’ve done your base level of investigation about this company or person, you think there’s possibility to work together.

How do I make sure about that before we sign a contract?

So a lot of what we do inside of enrollment conversations is really talking to them about what’s worked, what isn’t working, what have you tried to get it to work, and really diving into that? The reasons for those conversations, even though they seem a little invasive, is you’re going to find out a couple things. And they may not actually verbalize those things.You have to get really good at listening.

So to give you an example, when someone comes to us, we ask those kinds of questions. And we might find out that they’re blaming it on somebody else they worked with. But when you really get down to it and do some heavy listening and dig, dig, dig, you’ll find out that the person you’re talking to didn’t take action. They didn’t follow through. And so you’re really listening for those patterns when they’re telling you about those experiences. Because they will tell you a lot. You’ll find out if you have an action person or a blame person.  You don’t want that blame person.

I think it’s equally important to be listening to hear the right things and logging away those red flags that come up in those early conversations.

Because just like you were talking about, one thing I always tell freelancers is it’s a bad sign if you’re on the sales call, and they say, “I’ve hired 15 other freelancers before and no one could do the job right.” There is only one common denominator in those projects. And it was the person who didn’t give good directions, didn’t pay on time, or whatever it is that the client has done.

So do you have tips for making that lead generation process faster for freelancers or any type of business owner?

So that’s actually what we use that assessment for, in depth, is we set the success principles of what we do and then you measure, as the potential client, where you’re at in that. So we know not only how much help you need, but also you have an understanding coming into the call about how much help you need. Because sometimes I find that when we’re pre qualifying, people don’t realize how much help they actually need. They think they’re doing better than they actually are. And for anybody, a freelancer, a business, that is a big red flag because their expectations may be much higher of what you’re going to do for them than what you actually commit to do for them.

It’s definitely important to know where they’re at and where they want to go.

I use a loose form of pre qualification for the freelancers that I coach. I layout in the sales page this is the type of person I work with. These are the types of things we work on. And then I require that they do a brief phone call with me just to make sure that we’re a fit beforehand.

But I’m imagining that using something like a form where you ask questions could help pre qualify people to see if they’re the right fit. But what do you do with the people where you read it  and you say, “Hmm, this isn’t the right fit” or you look at their information they’ve emailed to you? Let’s say you got a lead through your website that says, “I want to hire you to do these freelance services.” But you can tell it’s not a fit for you and they didn’t really pass your pre qualification test. Where do they go from there? How do you respond to that professionally?

Juliet’s response to this sticky situation.

Usually, I try to be a connector.  I will go back and explain to them, “Look, this is not really an area where we work well and I can see you need help here. I know somebody.” And then I give them a name and number and tell them they should contact them and see if they can help them a little bit better. That doesn’t mean that you’re giving bad leads to someone else. But you genuinely may not be the person to do that work.

And most of the time, when we’re referring, we’re making a little bit of referral fee off of it as well. So it’s not a total loss. But here’s the thing about it, when you do something like that, and we just have this conversation in integrity, people come back and they send people to you. Because now they fully understand what you do. And they understand that you just didn’t take their money and not deliver for the sake of taking their money. And that’s huge when you’re doing something like this.

I think one thing that you might never know is the people who land on your lead qualification page who look at it and just in looking at it, realize that you two are not a fit and they don’t even fill it out.

So it’s also doing a lot of that work for you. But people can self opt out and go, “This is like five questions long and I’m too busy to answer five questions.” If you’re too busy to do that, we’re never going to get anywhere on the project.   Anything else in that lead generation process can definitely help people realize “This is right for me.  This isn’t right for me.”

Now, one thing I see all the time, not so much in the freelance world, but in other businesses is this idea of buying leads. Now is that something that’s still relevant? I mean, I would think it’s worth the extra time to find your own leads and then pre qualify them. But then every so often, I do see people selling these lead generation services where they’ll promise you a list of  X many companies.

Juliet on buying leads.

So here’s the deal. Business is all about relationships. And that is one of the things when you and I initially talked that I told you in this click world out there, what we’ve developed, is for relationship building.  So when you go out and buy a lead, there are three different kinds of traffic out in the world. There is cold traffic, medium traffic, and hot traffic.

Hot traffic is when you have referred somebody to me and you vouched for me. You really need this person.  That medium traffic is somebody who kind of knows you, following you trying to figure out what you’re doing, and you’re nurturing them. Those cold leads, they didn’t ask to become a lead, for the most part. Or if you’re in digital, they click and they don’t really know you. A lot of times they’ve just clicked a click. So those people are really, really hard when you buy leads. And a lot of times when you go out and buy those, they’re spam. So they’re actually ticked off that you’re like, “Where did you get my name?”

So now you have no chance of building rapport and relationships. You should always go out and develop your own leads because you’re the face of your business. You’re the person that they’re looking at.  Are you credible? Do you follow through and do what you say you’re going to do? If I tell you when you hand me your card that I’m going to call you this afternoon, do I call you this afternoon? There’s all of these things that they’re evaluating that make it necessary for you to generate and pre qualify your own leads.

It’s such a great point, because I think so many people are looking for that magic bullet.

The easy answer of, “Oh, well just give me a list of 10 or 50 companies that I can pitch.” And I always say that your odds of success are going to be so much higher if you make your own list of 10 companies you would like to work with and then do the research to see if on your initial review, they meet your lead qualification. It’s just going to be so much more effective.

The other thing I always wonder about those lead gen companies too is let’s say they have a list of 50 companies, but 2000 people have bought that list of it, right? So now those people are really pissed off on that lead list because they’re like, “Man, everyone under the sun is emailing me and I never asked for this information to come to me.”

And that’s such a great point because Juliet has a lot of clients who are trying to get into corporate workshops.

And they think, “Okay, every corporation needs me.” Do you have any idea how many times a day that HR person is hounded for a workshop to come in? So the best thing you can do if you want to get into those places, is go to some place where you can network with those people.

The fact is, if I am going to an event, and I want to meet the speakers or I want to do business with those people who have been vouched for that probably could use my services, I reached out to them on LinkedIn. And I say, “Hey, we’re going to the blah blah blah event. I can’t wait to see you speak.” And then walk up at the event, introduce yourself, “Hey, I reached out on LinkedIn.” And then talk to them.

But here’s the bigger tip.

Sit next to them at the event because inevitably when you’re sitting next to people conversation starts. Sit at their table or wherever, because that’s where it all begins. That’s where you get to make your first impression instead of an email or a solicitation phone call. Get out of the house and go network with those people that you really want to grab their business. And you may find out at those like, “Oh my gosh, that person’s horrible. I really don’t want to work there.”

That tip about LinkedIn is so important because our email inboxes can get cluttered.

But you can always do follow up on LinkedIn.  You can do initial outreach on LinkedIn. And then if you sit next to that speaker at that networking event, and they post about having spoken, you remind them of who you are by commenting on that on their social media. You say, “Hey, you did a great job. It was great to meet you.” You want to keep staying in their world. And I think that that is really, really important.

So let’s talk about the beginner person who’s just starting out realizing that they need to have a better process for capturing incoming leads, what would you say would be the first step that they need to take? Where I’m going with this is a lot of freelancers go, “Oh, I can’t launch my business yet. Because I don’t have my website.”

A website that has no traffic to it is so useless. So just skip it. I always just tell them that they don’t need that unless they have this massive following and they have massive traffic already. Then yes, let’s optimize your website and make sure there’s a place on there for people to hire you. But I would think it’s probably not set up your website. I’m wondering if there’s something else people can do to sort of be lead friendly.

Juliet explains how people can be lead friendly.

How about a landing page? It costs about $50 to put up the landing page. You add a little about yourself, your services, and let’s set an appointment. So you can send people to that landing page.

Also get out and start developing content. Let’s say that you and I had a conversation or we were going back and forth on LinkedIn a little and you expressed an area you were having a little bit of trouble and you may not hire me today. But wouldn’t it be amazing if I served you by saying, “You know what, Laura? I wrote an article about this topic. Can I share it with you?” Then  leave the link and and just kind of start developing from there. You’re showing them your value instead of telling them how valuable you are.

And how many times do we see people doing the opposite?

It is rampant on Facebook and LinkedIn. “Help! I’m launching a podcast. Does anyone have any good resources?” And inevitably 10 people respond. “Hi, I’m a Podcast Producer here. Here’s my services page, go check it out.” And it’s like, I don’t know who you are, you know what I mean?

If you were the person that left me the link that said, “Hey, here’s this great resource I found, or I took this course. I read this book. I listened to this podcast and it was awesome.” And continue to build that relationship. I feel like we’re interacting as to humans, rather than you just see me as somebody who can be pitched. And I think that that’s really important.

I always laugh how many people seem to think that it’s as easy as, you send a pitch or you get on a sales, contract sign, you’ve got the money, the company is in the person. It still goes back to relationships. We live in a digital world. And digital technology enables us to do all that other stuff faster, but we still have to go back to relationships at the end of the day.

Juliet’s upcoming book.

So this spring, I have a book called coming out it’s actually called “Pitch Slapped”, because that’s what I feel like when I go and you do that to me. Especially those people who are on LinkedIn, you connect with them and they say, “Hey, I’ve got this brand new program. Would you like it?” And it’s like, “No, I don’t even know who you are.”

And half the time they haven’t even done the research to see what it is you do.

I’ve had people pitch me investment banking stuff. I’m like, “Did you even look at my profile? Like, I don’t need investment banking. I’m not looking to have venture capital.” My favorite though is that people who are subtly insulting with their pitch where they’re like, “I know how hard it is to work out.” You’re like, “Oh my gosh, you’re calling me out on my fitness or my nutrition.”  Not only have I been “pitch slapped” as Juliet says, but now there’s like this undercurrent of like you have flagged me as your ideal lead because you think I need extra help.

Juliet’s pet peeve.

My pet peeve is men who email who tech. You go through Facebook Messenger and they say, “Hey, I have this great new meetup. I help women manage their money.” It’s like when your husband tries to teach you how to play golf and tells you everything wrong. And you’re not inspired by that. You want to hit him over the head with the club.

It’s so crazy that and this all goes back to that same topic of the proper lead qualification.

Does this person want to hear your message? Are you reaching out in the most effective way to do it? Because maybe you do have some incredible supplement that burns fat, but there’s a nicer way to go about it, or there’s a more appropriate way to make sure that whoever you’re targeting is the ideal person to hear that message. I might be willing to hear that at a networking event where they’re just talking about their own experience using it.

I actually have a rule that if someone does that to me on LinkedIn, I just remove the connection immediately. If the first message is,  “Hi! I sell XYZ. Here’s the link to buy it. I’d love to help you.” I’m like, “Okay, remove connection.” Because there is no connection between us because you didn’t take the time to even get to know me or spend that time

Juliet shares a story.

So I love to share this story. Someone did that to me. They wrote me a birthday message and this was like in 2016.  It was really nice message, “Hey, Happy Birthday. You deserve all the best in life. I’d love to help you get healthier in your next year.” And they signed it. So I wrote back, “Thank you.” Then here came the sales pitch.

That would have been okay except 2017, they sent the exact same message. In 2018, I was at an event and the owner of this MLM said, “You know, my people are having a little problem with marketing. Do you think you can come in and talk to us?” And I said, “Oh my gosh, I have this great thing on social media. And guess what? I’ve got this messenger inside of my presentation that is what your guy keeps sending me every single year.” And he’s like, “No way.” I was like, “Yeah, I use you guys as an example, in my presentation.”

You don’t want to be the bad example that someone is using to say what not to do, right?

In my mind, it wouldn’t take that much more effort for them to send you a personalized message that at least varies it up every year. He could log in a spreadsheet, pitched her in 2017 and didn’t go anywhere. So let me not do that. Juliet pointed out that inside messenger, when you get that message, you can see the message above that’s identical from the previous year. So vary it up.

That’s another good point. Because when you’re doing this outreach to prospective clients, you want to vary it up. One of my most hated things with follow up is when a freelancer sends a pitch and then they respond to that message when no one answers and says, “Hey, just following up on this.” Don’t do that.  Give the person a reason to read your message that they might not have seen initially. Always add a little bit of personalization. And that goes back to that human connection.

When you see someone else in your space or in another space who is doing things well and owns their expertise, go look at how they do it.

You want to learn how to make great email newsletters, get go sign up for somebody list that has a 40% open rate and a high close rate. You want to learn about lead generation and pre qualifying go look at how Juliet has set up her own pre qualification on the quiz. So you can always take lessons from other people who are doing things right.

Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

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